Sean K Berry is a casting director and videographer in Toronto. He is the host of Casting Couch Radio, a radio blog for entertainment industry pros, independents, amateurs and everyone in between. Sean wanted to address an aspect of professionalism in the film and design industry for the Zooppa community.
There’s an old Hollywood story that goes like this: William Friedkin is directing an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents when Hitchcock comes on the set. Friedkin says something or other to Hitch, and Hitch replies, “Mr. Friedkin, where’s your tie?”. Time marches on, and pretty soon Friedkin is winning a Best Director Oscar for The French Connection. Going up to receive the award, he passes Hitchcock’s seat, adjusts his bow tie and says, “How’s my tie, Hitch?”
The days of Hitchcock and ties were over, the days of directors in baseball caps had arrived. And they’re still here. Quentin Tarantino in a pith helmet, Spike Lee in a Yankees cap, name-a-director in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. In the world of film, comfort is king and the more you look like a slob, the more you prove that you’ve made it.
Just not in corporate video.
I guess I’m a bit old school, but nothing irritates me more than having someone on my crew, or someone else’s crew, who is dressed like they’re going to a Nirvana retrospective. Not because I don’t think people should be comfortable, but because I think people should dress their part. Music video? Shorts or jeans. Feature film? Whatever the hell you want. Wedding? Suit. Corporate? Slacks and a button down.
When a company is dropping tens of thousands on a thirty second internet spot, the least you can do is dust off a button-down shirt (if you really need that artistic vibe, go ahead and roll up the sleeves). Dressing smarter than the average college student shows you’re making a little money, and it shows you give a damn. When I see a photographer in a t-shirt that’s been washed so many times it’s virtually see-through, I automatically wonder how much care they take with their photographs. Unfair? Probably. But unless I’m dealing with a guy that’s shooting for Rolling Stone, I don’t want to see his nipple piercings.
I know I’m in the minority. The stuff I see on sets tells me that I’m behind the times. But I’m okay with that, because I know a lot of clients that don’t want the grunge deal around their office, either.
The dress code of videographers and photographers has gone to the dogs in the last ten years or so. I don’t happen to shoot weddings, but it amazes me the crap that wedding guys wear these days. When I was kid, wedding photographers always wore a tuxedo. Last year, I went to a wedding as a guest, and the female photographer was wearing shorts and sandals. The mother of the bride made a snide remark, and that sound I heard was the photographer’s reference letter going up in a cloud of smoke.
On corporate shoots, I shine my shoes, wear a pair of slacks, and a button-down shirt. And yes, the shirt is ironed. I dress this way so that no matter who I run into on location, I’ll fit in. The HR people usually don’t care how you’re dressed, but running into the bank’s president can be a different story. The last thing I want running through their mind is, “How much are we paying this guy to schlub around our office in ripped jeans?”
I’m sure I’ll get hammered by people with tons of stories about how they dress for their “personality,” and that their clients couldn’t give a damn. I’m not so sure about that. The way I see it, this market is now absolutely flooded by every kid with a camcorder. Anything that sets me apart as being in a bigger league, all the better.
So yes, Hitch and Friedkin were both right. Hitch because he was talking to a junior director, Friedkin because he became a rich man, entitled to all of the ego that came with it. Yet he still wore a suit to the Oscars.